Connaughton said this contact group was to meet at
the end of January to lay out some of the key objectives
outlined in the U.S. counterpiracy action plan.
“There are several areas they are looking at,”
Connaughton said. “One is greater naval cooperation
— respectively, how to deal with jurisdictional issues
— and industry outreach. MARAD has been tasked
with essentially doing outreach in trying to assist the
international shipping industry to come up with best
practices with coordinated communications as well as
coordination with the navies.”
Piracy Hot Spot
Since 1991, there has been little government authority
in Somalia. The fractured country has struggled for
more than a century with reunification following a
long history of colonial divisions, aggravated further
by clan distinctions and militia forces. Consequently,
in recent years the number of ships seized off its coast
has surged and the practice of pirates holding crews for
ransom has confounded maritime officials.
In 2008 alone there were 109 attacks in Somali
waters, during which 42 vessels were hijacked and 828
crew members taken hostage, according to Pottengal
Mukundan, director of the IMB. The IMB’s Piracy
Reporting Centre was established in 1991 in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia, at a time when attacks were prevalent in Southeast Asia and the South China seas.
The Piracy Reporting Centre essentially collects
emergency calls from masters and crew on vessels that
are under attack, and then passes it on to law enforcement agencies in the area of concern.
At the close of December, 14 vessels were being held
in the waters off Somalia, said Mukundan. Among
them was the Saudi Arabian oil supertanker Sirius Star,
which was seized in November.
Naval intelligence and military officials were astonished by the crime. At three times the size of an aircraft
carrier and transporting 2 million barrels of oil, the vessel
was overcome by a small pirate gang that had to sail for
several days to reach the ship, which was traveling about
520 miles off the coast of Kenya at the time of the attack.
Somali pirates who overtook the Chinese fishing vessel Tian Yu 8 hold its crew on the ship’s deck Nov. 17. Tian Yu 8
was attacked Nov. 16 in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of responsibility and forced to proceed to an anchorage off the Somali
coast. It was still being held as of mid-January.